Kiwis awake with World Cup hangover

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WELLINGTON - Blinking and stumbling into the pale, liquid sunlight, New Zealand woke with a collective hangover on Sunday after the All Whites qualified for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

Tens of thousands thronged the bars, nightclubs and streets of Wellington's entertainment district and partied until dawn after Rory Fallon's first-half header gave them a 1-0 victory over Bahrain in the Asia/Oceania qualifier on Saturday.

Some were still making their way home mid-morning on Sunday, wearing their replica All Whites shirts and stumbling through the streets in search of caffeine or sugar boosts that would invigorate them on their final stretch.

"Have you been home yet mate?," asked a bystander as one All Whites shirt-clad supporter lurched down a central city side street.

"You must be kidding," came the smiling reply.

The victory in front of a sold-out 35,194-strong crowd at Westpac Stadium, which gave the team a ticket to only their second World Cup finals appearance, dominated the local news on Sunday.

Television networks replayed Fallon's goal and the post-match celebrations of Ricki Herbert and his team continually on the main news bulletins. Even the publicly-funded Radio New Zealand led with the story.

The staid All Blacks performance over Italy at the soccer citadel San Siro in Milan, hours after the All Whites clinched qualification, was relegated to second fiddle, something almost unheard of in rugby-mad New Zealand.

All three national Sunday newspapers led with the All Whites' victory with the Sunday Star Times front page headline, over a photo of Fallon scoring the goal, reading: "The $10m goal...All Whites World Cup bound."

The sports section was dominated by a huge photo of a jubilant Fallon being mobbed by teams mates with the simple headline: "Header from Heaven."

Former All White Billy Harris paid tribute to the crowd at Wellington's stadium, known affectionately as "The Cake Tin", with the fanatical Wellington Phoenix "Yellow Fever" supporters stripping off their shirts in the 80th minute and waving them continuously until the final whistle.

"We've seen how they do it overseas and now we've got fans displaying some passion, wearing football shirts, and no shirts, and singing witty ditties," Harris wrote in the Sunday Star Times.

"For a country still learning the ropes of the global game, this was a brilliant effort and the message it sent was clear: we want more."